But when you listen to Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) CEO Dirk Ahlborn speak, the whole thing doesn't sound completely crazy. Instead, it sounds like one of those amazing things that we as humans can actually accomplish if we set our mind to it. I got to have lunch with Ahlborn here in Austin, TX yesterday before his keynote speech to the SXSW Eco conference and the plan he described actually makes me like 20 percent excited that I'll get to ride in one of these things before the end of the decade.
The basic idea of the hyperloop is that you set up a network of low-air-pressure tubes between cities. Then you shoot little capsules that hold about 30 people in them between these cities at faster-than-airplane speeds. Because there is so little friction in the low-pressure environment, you don't need a ton of energy to move someone between Washington, DC and New York in 30 minutes, for example. Since there will be renewable energy involved in the infrastructure, the entire thing could be energy-negative (producing more than it uses). And if you're making money generating energy, maybe you don't need to charge people for the tickets. Millennials hate paying for things, he said, and if any demographic is going to love the hyperloop, it's the young people.
In Ahlborn's speech yesterday, he described some of the nitty-gritty work that the Hyperloop team is doing, like deciding exactly how far apart the concrete pylons will end up being (200 feet seems to be the number, for now) and if they're actually going to be made of concrete or something else (concrete is cheap, but there are also advanced concretes that can help clean the air, or maybe the pylons should be some sort of vertical garden. Everything is on the table, it seems) and all sort of other options. The ideas are coming from a team of over 450 people around the world who have signed up to volunteer to get the hyperloop moving. These people are getting involved not to make money (they're "paid" in stock options for now) but because of the environmental challenges that something like the hyperloop could help solve. Cleaner air and a fast ride to another town? Sign me up.
Further taking the hyperloop out of the realm of the absurd and into the real, Ahlborn gave some targets that HTT has set for the near future:
- Oct 2015: First fundraising. The target is $50 million US.
- First quarter 2016: IPO, target opening of $500 million US.
- Second quarter 2016: Start building test track in Quay Valley, CA, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
- Third quarter 2016: Elon Musk builds his own test track
- Third quarter 2017: Test and optimization of the Quay Valley track.
- Third quarter 2018 or 2019: HTT sees the first revenues from Quay Valley.
In other words, the way that Ahlborn lays it out, the hyperloop is part inspirational journey, part real-world mission. Will it happen? Who knows, but if you want to watch the entire 53-minute talk and see how Ahlborn sells the hyperloop, you can do so by pressing play on the video above.
Oh, and the other team working on a hyperloop is Hyperloop Technologies (we'll forgive you if you got the two mixed up). We know there are huge challenges involved for either company to make this thing work, but we're a bit more hopeful today than we were last week.